For weeks, debate has reached a fever pitch in North Carolina and beyond over “bathroom bills” mandating that people use restrooms matching the gender on their birth certificates at the time of birth. Now an Alabama city has lead the charge in a new twist to the story. City officials now say that violators of the law will now be arrested and face jail sentences.
The city council in Oxford, Ala., voted Tuesday to adopt an ordinance that would make it illegal for transgender people to use a public bathroom or changing facility designated to a different gender/sex than the one listed on their birth certificate.
The new ordinance, also says that anyone violating the ordinance could face up to six months in jail or a $500 fine.
The measure in Oxford — a city of about 21,000 people living an hour’s drive east of Birmingham — is “unprecedented” in adding criminal penalties like jail time, according to the Human Rights Campaign.
“This ordinance is a shameful and vile attack on the rights and privacy of transgender people,” Eva Walton Kendrick, the HRC’s state manager for Alabama, said in a statement. “Transgender people are our neighbors, our coworkers and our fellow churchgoers, and every Alabamian has the right to live their lives without fear of discrimination and prejudice.”
After the measure was passed, Steven Waits, the city council’s president, said it was proposed in response to a statement from Target last week that customers and employees could “use the restroom or fitting room facility that corresponds with their gender identity.”
Oxford has a Target located in a shopping center just off Interstate 20. Waits read from a statement saying that he had received an “overwhelming” number of complaints about the store’s policy. He also said that the measure was needed “to protect our women and children.”
In the ordinance, exceptions are made for adults accompanying children age 11 and younger as well as those people working as custodians or first responders.
Four out of the five Oxford City Council members, including Waits, did not respond to messages seeking comment on Wednesday. One of them replied that Waits would release a statement on Wednesday afternoon, but he did not reply to a follow-up message. Bill Partridge, the Oxford police chief, also did not respond to a message.
Transgender rights have become a heated issue on the presidential campaign trail, something prompted by a measure in North Carolina that sparked an intense focus on the topic.
North Carolina’s bathroom law drew vocal opposition from business groups as well as LGBT rights organizations. Two major companies — Deutsche Bank and PayPal — have called off planned extensions due to the law, while the NBA says it will move its All-Star Game next season out of Charlotte unless the law is changed.
North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R), who signed that state’s measure, has defended the law and said this week that it has been the subject of a “smear campaign.” He also pushed back against President Obama’s comments last week that the law is “wrong” and “should be overturned.”
Last week, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights said that the North Carolina measure and a law adopted recently in Mississippi jeopardize “the actual physical safety” of transgender people.